Reflections – Chiara

I started my experience as a volunteer for SALT Academy on the 4th of January. My main tasks as a volunteer were to conduct Monitoring & Evaluation data collection about the Mighty Girls Program and to contribute to monitoring reports, conduct English classes for the girls and to run individual interviews and focus group sessions with members of the program. The data was useful for SALT Academy and also for my Masters Thesis, which investigates the effectiveness of the program in empowering young Khmer girls.

It was my first experience living in Asia and the first weeks were quite difficult – settling in a new environment and understanding the local culture. Cambodia, as a developing country, cannot offer the same standards in living conditions that we are used to in the West, but Battambang is the perfect kind of city where it is possible to live the real Cambodia in comfort, where the rhythm of life is both relaxed and simple.

It is probably for those reasons that I found that Cambodian people and the local lifestyle are incredibly heartwarming. The genuine relationships that I had the possibility to build with some of SALT staff members and the Mighty Girls is something that is not possible to find in my country of origin. Facing Khmer culture with its pros and cons was a challenge in the beginning of my experience that ultimately allowed myself to adapt to a new culture and environment, immensely expanding my mind. For me, living here meant huge personal growth in terms of my professional flexibility, empathy, personal challenges, testing my limits, improving my ability in relating with people from different backgrounds, and an overall mind-opening experience.

For example, sharing time and experiences with the Mighty Girls taught me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study, work and live in “optimal” conditions (where education is encouraged and even mandatory). Here, not all youths have the support of their families – higher-level education is not seen as fundamental as it is in Italy and the West. Often, parents prefer that children work and contribute to the family’s finances instead of going at school or play. That is why it is so admirable how these girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, thanks to SALT Academy’s work, have the opportunity to find themselves and explore their potentials. They need new role models to look up to, but what surprised me was the fact that, while I was supposed to teach them, they progressively became my own role models for their motivational skills, hope, sense of commitment and the idea that is always possible to reinvent yourself – no matter which situation you come from.

Joining a volunteer experience with SALT can positively influence the life of both the beneficiaries and volunteer her/himself. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that improved my mindset for the better and positively impacted the way I interpret the world. Dedicating your time to SALT Academy is an enriching experience that I will never forget.

Chiara and our Mighty Girls Program Coordinator, Linda, share an infectious laugh during one of the girls’ friendly games.